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Making Intellectual Property a Common Good to Combat Global Pandemics: The COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the Role of Big Pharma


The COVID-19 outbreak has created a global race for research into a vaccine, diagnostic and therapeutic (COVID-19 treatments) among research institutes, governments, and big-tech pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma). In this context, intellectual property rights (IPRs) would play a prominent role in incentivizing and accelerating COVID-19 treatments. However, there remains a reasonable doubt whether IPRs, in particular patent rights, would restrict access to COVID-19 treatments, and thereby create global health inequalities. Big Pharma may rely heavily on their IPRs to secure their patent monopoly and profit motives in successful development of COVID-19 treatments. Besides, Big Pharma has a history of using every possible tactic to circumvent the proposals to facilitate public health. This has led the global community to revisit the normative aspects of IPRs and consider making intellectual property a common good to achieve global health during the pandemic. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), considering the proposal made by Costa Rica. The C-TAP intends to ensure technology transfer, disclosure of research, flexible licensing and open innovations. At the same time, Big Pharma, and proxy governments such as the United States of America, have already criticized this global initiative. Therefore, there remains a question as to whether a C-TAP approach would only be idealistic or realistic in the global governance of IPRs and public health. Accordingly, the main objective of this paper is to critically analyze the prospects that C-TAP would bring to combat COVID-19 pandemic with particular reference to the potential challenges that may be exerted by Big Pharma. This is legal doctrinal research performed through an extensive review of primary and secondary sources. Finally, this paper intends to reflect on how to tackle Big Pharma's influences on the effective functioning of C-TAP to ensure that everyone gets a fair opportunity to access and afford COVID-19 treatments.

Keywords: IPRs, common good, COVID-19 treatments, C-TAP, Big Pharma